One Thousand Cranes Can Be Wrong

This piece was meant to appear on the website of a magazine in November 2009, but the artist who is the subject of the article objected to certain passages. Here it is, for the record, minus the artist’s name:

One Thousand Cranes Can Be Wrong

An introduction to **’s “action painting of the heart”

“I want to paint massive canvases so that I can stand in front of them and sense a wave of shade rising high above my head and it feels as if it will break and come crashing down on top of me with surf and sand like the sea.” ** often resorts to maritime similes when describing his elemental artwork. “Each piece,” he says, “is as different as each swell of the ocean”. Not only is this perfectly true — the techniques he employs range from candle-wax dripping to origami via oil painting and photography — but also most apposite for one born in Brighton and bred in nearby Worthing. Like Venus, his giant oil monochromes seem to have sprung fully-formed from the ocean spray. There is also this sense in much of *’s work that the tide is slowly rising. It is both a threat and a promise.

The (noble) savage beauty of the Hand Bursts series — which culminates in a bloody mess that could incarnadine the multitudinous seas — conjures up the fleeting patterns * creates on sundry beaches and then captures on camera. The Lines You Should Not Cross are vicious red pencil renditions of the artist’s bouts of self-harming, but they are also reminiscent of those lines literally drawn in the sand that will be, as it were, littorally washed away. The vibrancy of *’s works often comes from this tension between the compulsion to freeze moments in time (the large paintings are even entitled Frozen Moments in Texture) and the desire to dissolve into an eternal here and now. One of the most poignant pictures is that of hundreds of footprints left by so many Man Fridays on some deserted, seemingly godforsaken South Coast beach. Have all the holidaymakers gone home? Are we looking at fossilised vestiges of prehistoric humanity or the posthistoric consequences of Armageddon? Stone Age or Stoned Age? All we can be sure of is that the image is full of emptiness, achingly so. * shores these fragments against his — indeed our — ruin, but that, I suspect, is only part of the story. I can see him — all at sea on Worthing or Brighton sands — connecting nothing with nothing. Soon, however, the slate will be wiped clean and the canvas will heal: the world will return to its pristine, prelapsarian state. He closes his eyes, sensing a wave of shade rising high above his head… “We are the sea,” he writes, in his beautifully exalted, seer-like prose, “rushing in and out, forever changing as we alter with each swell of the waves. We are the sea.”

I first met ** at a reading I had co-organised at London’s Aquarium Gallery back in 2005 to showcase the thriving underground literary scene. He was just a member of the audience, but most female eyes were on him owing to his dashing Clark Gable looks. I remember a young lady in thigh-high boots gushing to no one in particular that he was the most handsome man she had ever seen. At the time, Coleman was shooting videos for up-and-coming bands and organising events at a trendy Shoreditch pub. He was also convalescing from a suitably ill-fated affair with a Norwegian junkie he had fallen madly in love with while exploring South East Asia. Soon he would gain a degree of notoriety as the Lord of the Unbuttoned Flies; a kind of Divine Marquis for the Offbeat Generation. Through his prolific priapic prose, he came across as the bastard offspring of Valmont and Sid James — the missing link between libertinage and the saucy seaside postcard.

Deep down, * had always been an artist — rather than just a peddler of literary smut or a budding avant-garde filmmaker — but it took the mother of all depressions to open up his eyes. His breakdown acted like a conversion; suddenly, he was born again. “The intensity, the violence of what I went through completely changed me,” he explains. ‘Intensity’ is a keyword here. *’s artwork is the product of “heightened states of feelings,” hence its air of jubilant inevitability. This, one senses, is a matter of life and death rather than a mere distraction. The canvas is a “battleground” on which the artist squares up to his demons, wielding the palette knife like “a sword”. *, however, is at pains to point out that depression is only the catalyst for his “action painting of the heart,” not its subject.

“I paint from within. I paint what I am.” Contrary to appearances, * is in no danger of disappearing up his own ars rhetorica. The result of his painting “from within” never feels introverted at all. In fact, it looks remarkably like without. Reflecting some kind of inverted pathetic fallacy, mindscapes are expressed as landscapes. Escaping the petty confines of the self is what this is all about. The aforementioned Hand Bursts could be the bloody handprints left by cavemen pounding away at the walls of their caves. When superimposed, they begin to resemble the graceful beating of wings. This metamorphosis reflects the artist’s desire to shed “the thing that wraps an anchor around the self and lets it drop into the dark abyss of fear” — an idea best expressed by his origami installations.

The Cry of a Thousand Cranes — red, blue and yellow paper birds hanging in the Saatchi Gallery or from a tree in the artist’s back garden — was inspired by the old Japanese legend according to which whoever folds 1,000 paper cranes will be granted a wish. When I ask him if he believes in this legend, — just smiles. Then he says, “I want yellows and blues and reds, I want to see them everywhere I walk, all exploding like fireworks”. We both stare in silence at the cranes gently swaying in the breeze.